Lingers on comics bought and read Thursday the 15th of May

Cover of Batman number 676Batman #676
Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Tony Daniel
Published by DC Comics

Hnh, as Batman would say. This week found me bravely facing off a against a combination of factors that put my objectivity in the toilet. See, when I hear the magic words Batman, Grant Morrison, new batvillains, scary Joker, and Batman RIP, I kinda lose focus, in that this shit gets me very excited indeed. It’s like the first time I saw the Phantom Menace, it was impossible for me not like it, even though I had a suspicion that it probably was crap, and that one dark day I’d see it for what it was and my childhood dreams would be ground to dust, and on that day I could truly call myself a man.

After a couple of rereads and a long, hard talk with my inner maturity, I can confirm that Batman 676 isn’t crap, in fact it’s quite fun, quite interesting and does a decent enough job setting up the arc. I say quite and decent enough because earth shatteringly good this isn’t, but then set-up issues seldom are. However, along with the expected exposition, we also get a couple of grin inducing revelations, some ominous foreshadowing and more of that strange, fractured vibe that’s haunted the run.

For a start it was nice to get partial closure on the Black Glove question. Turns out they’re a shadowy organisation led by Doctor Hurt and, in a move that surprised me, comprised of the baddies teased in the Club of Heroes arc. Morrison being Morrison I was under the impression that Charlie Caligula, Scorpiana, King Kraken and the rest lived in the throwaway universe of ideas that litter his comics. That they’re gonna bring the pain for real is a nice treat. In fact the first two scenes, a brief lightening lit flashforward where Batman bellows out of the frame something about the dynamic duo never dying, and the aforementioned Black Glove business, work not only to establish a healthy dose of grim fatalism, but to build a tone reminiscent of the best of Hammer House’s output, at once both scary and camp. It’s a testament to Morrison’s abilities as a writer that he can keep some silliness and humour bubbling away under the surface without totally destabilising the books more sinister aspects. As in the rest of his run, Morrison pulls off the trick by throwing some genuine nastiness in with the more self-conscious horror components. Here we get brazen final scene with the Joker that rescues itself from cliché by the shear ballsiness of its execution. So yeah there’s a Rorschach test, and the psychiatrist’s couch, and the Joker bullshitting that the images remind him of “another pretty flower”, but the actual contents of his vision are so absurdly gruesome that the sequence transcends easy reduction. Dumb it may be, it’s also really horrible stuff: the apotheosis of 80s psycho Joker.

It’s not all good times, the middle section is rather flat and contains perhaps the least entertaining scene in the book: the introduction of the new Batmobile. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, a new set of wheel’s was promised way back at the beginning of Morrison’s run. Unfortunately for us, despite Tony Daniel’s best efforts the team fails to deliver on the hype. Sure the red lights are fun, but I think most of us were thinking we’d be seeing something considerably more radical. To make matters worse, Morrison has deliberately built the scene to be anti-climatic in that the baddie being chased down is supposed to be ineffectual, silly and dull – serving to illustrate how devoid of threat and empty the Batman’s life has become. The one saving grace comes in a what could be interpreted as a throwaway line, but might prove to be the most ominous and important in the book, when Batman says of the new Batmobile “it’s not how I pictured it” (or words to that effect). It seems to me that Grant is toying with our expectations. Perhaps this Batmobile is supposed to underwhelming, perhaps things aren’t how they should be, perhaps something is lurking beneath the pages of Batman and is slowly clawing its way to the surface. That’s what my inner child child would like to think, anyway.

the cover to captain britain and mi-13 number 1Captain Britain and MI-13 #1
Written by Paul Cornell
Drawn by Leonard Kirk
Published by Marvel Comics

Poor old greyface, he really didn’t get a look in this week. Ever since it was announced that Paul Cornell would be writing Captain Britain and MI-13, backed up by the considerable talents of Leonard Kirk, I’ve been stupidly excited. Okay, maybe not every minute of every day, but, you know, often. If Cornell’s brilliant stint on last year’s Pete Wisdom mini taught us anything about the writer it’s that he’s determined to plough the furrow of high weirdness first carved by Alan Moore and Alan Davis with their work on Captain Britain and Excalibur. Quite what it is about the UK Marvelverse that allows it a strangeness quotient largely (these days) denied to the rest of MU, I’m not sure. Perhaps it has something to do with Britain’s cliched and hackneyed association with witchery woo-wah and magic, maybe it’s rooted in our culture of fantasy fiction which has always prized the rum, uncanny and surreal over straighter interpretations of the genre, maybe it’s just that no-one expects books set in the UK to sell for shit.

Whatever, looks like Cornell is pulling the same stunt here and doing it exceptionally well, and that’s despite a sales boosting effort to tie the book into Secret Invasion. Now, far be it from me to wish low sales on anything manned by this creative team, but I was slightly disappointed when I heard that the book would be launched on the back on Marvel’s big crossover. I’m all about giving winning teams creative freedom and not shackling them to the yoke of Bendeece. Rather wonderfully, however, none of that seems to matter. Cornell and Kirk manage to juggle introducing and in some cases reimagining the key characters – Captain Britain and the Black Knight are the recipients of some considerable buffing – all the while never forgetting to give good action, stay on SI message, and keep the weird front and centre. That one of the leads is a Skrull who’s taken on the identity of the late 60s John Lennon doesn’t hurt – with both the character’s links to his Skrully past, and his downright bizarreness exploited to the hilt.

And that’s not the end of it. One vampire superheroine, one Skrull head punched off, one Siege Perilous, and a lecture by (what I’m calling) the Voice of Albion later, and Cornell throws in perhaps the most successful shock ending I’ve seen in a long time. Okay, it’s not all perfect, some of the splash pages felt a little forced and unnecessary, and, as I said earlier, I would prefer that the book wasn’t part of a crossover, but that’s more a point of principal than an actual criticism. This book is on the whole an excellent example of how an introductory issue should be done, but more importantly than that, it has a voice all of its own. The only thing that’s likely to bring out the greyface here is if you bastards don’t buy it.

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